Thursday, October 19, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Light-Themed Birthday Party

Last month, my wife and I helped our oldest to celebrate his birthday in style. Ever since 2013, we have hosted a themed birthday party for our now-15-year-old son. Four of the last five parties (including this year's party) have featured yours truly refereeing a Role-Playing Game (RPG, for short). Three of those (2013, 2015, & 2016) had featured the classic West End Games' Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game (1987-1999).

          Pregens!                             Party favor bags = d6 + d20

This year, my wife steered our son towards a different genre, because she wanted to decorate with something other than Star Wars props and decorations. Thankfully, Frog God Games released the Swords & Wizardry Light game (SWL) by Erik "Tenkar" Stiene (of Tenkar's Tavern fame), +James Spahn (of Barrel Rider Games), and Zach Glazar (of Frog God Games) in the last year. SWL is a terrific system for a one-shot adventure for kids -- especially kids that are new to role-playing games. This rules-light system is based on the original trilogy of Swords & Wizardry games: White Box, Complete, and Core. The three are themselves retro-clones* of the original 1975 (S&W White Box) and 1976 (S&W Complete and S&W Core) versions of the original Dungeons & Dragons game.

*The term 'retro-clone' means that the game plays and feels like an older RPG but uses the framework of rules as set out by the 2000 Open Gaming License from Wizards of the Coast -- the rules that were the basis for the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. It also means that the game is in-print, unlike the classic games of the 1970s and 1980s.

 The Dining Room shined up nicely
Keep Out does not mean it's Keeping In       Pole Axe & Trident made by my wife

To prepare for the party, my wife and I generated almost 20 "pregens," pre-generated player characters from which our guests could choose. We also used the Swords & Wizardry Equipment Card Deck and Treasure Card Deck from Frog God Games for the contents of the gifts that would play a part in the adventure. Similarly, we set aside several Swords & Wizardry Hireling Deck Cards, as replacements for the players in case there were any player character deaths during the game.

Awesome Frog God Games Map   Adventurers colored by J & K 
That isn't going to hold much longer    Everyone's favorite stabby fruit

For my own preparation, I asked fellow gamers on Tenkar's Tavern's weekly Wednesday night chat and on Facebook for in-game birthday party ideas which I could use for our game's setting. James Spahn was quite helpful in crafting the day's adventure. What I received in return for my inquiries helped me set up a fun and enjoyable session.

The children numbered seven in all and their ages ranged from 4 to 15. The youngest was our younger son, who has several SWL game sessions under his belt, while the oldest was our older son. He was the "veteran" player at the table with Castles & Crusades, AD&D, OSRIC, Star Frontiers, Swords & Wizardry, and Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game experience to his credit. The birthday boy's character choice was to be a human jester. This is not a by-the-book class in SWL, so I converted one from the Adventures Dark and Deep game by +Joseph Bloch. Our younger son chose a human fighter as his character. The girls played a human witch (courtesy of the one written for SWL by +Timothy Brannan) and a human cleric, while the rest of the boys chose to play a human magic-user, a dwarf barbarian, a human fighter, and an elven ranger. With no thief in the party, I made one minor change to the scenario, which I will note below.

After the pregenerated characters were selected, our son and his birthday guests settled in while I presented the introduction to the adventure...

Famous hobbit burglar, Rustam Riverhopper the (Retired) Adventurer, is being thrown a huge birthday party by his hometown, the Village of Birt! Hundreds of people have been invited. The entire village plus adventurers of all stripes, including the player characters, are here. The characters have endured speeches by friends of Rustam and finally Rustam himself when the town's bakery delivers a gigantic cake, carried by what appears to be 10 hobbits, onto a reserved table near the celebrated hobbit. The candles upon the cake are lit -- and the cake is suddenly shrouded in smoke as the sputtering candles create more smoke than light. Just as suddenly, the cake explodes, pelting nearby guests and poor Rustam with icing and cake. Ten goblins jump out of the smoky cloud, begin attacking guests, and make their way towards the pile of gifts that Rustam's guests had brought, their eyes wide with greed and mischief.

After it was explained that the goblins somehow knew what the players knew -- that the gifts most probably contained quite a lot of magic items which could be harmful in the hands of evil goblins, the players were asked what they were going to do. The birthday boy helped explain what choices there were and soon the party, led by his jester, was scrambling to protect the villagers and the presents. The jester threw daggers to slow down the goblin attack. His brother charged the goblins with the dwarf barbarian and the pair of them began taking goblins down, one by one. The ranger fired arrows after taking up a position near the pile of presents. The magic-user was given any arcane scrolls discovered by himself and his fellows so he could cast them upon the vicious little humanoids whenever an offensive spell was acquired or use helpful scrolls upon his allies, should they be found. The cleric and the witch helped protect the presents. The cleric looked for wounded allies and villagers to heal while maintaining her defensive position, while any healing scrolls were given to her. Soon, though, two nasty little goblins were ripping into the presents and collecting what was within.

The barbarian slew several goblins and the fighter harried them away from the helpless villagers of Birt. Before long, the goblin uprising was put down by the cooperation of the village's seven new heroes. While some townsfolk busied themselves with attending to the wounded and cleaning up Rustam, their Honored Guest, the new adventurers turned their attention to the magic items found in the gifts. Most magic items found by the group were scrolls (given to the magic-user if they were arcane and to the cleric if they were divine in nature) and potions (kept by whomever found them in the chaos of the goblin attack). The heroes also found a set of magic chain armor, which was given to the fighter, a magic helmet which was donned by the barbarian, and a pair of magic boots which the jester quickly slipped on.

Newly outfitted and with some coins in their pockets from the slain goblin attackers, the seven heroes looked at the smoky cake-encrusted table and saw a large hole where the base of the cake should have been. The dwarf looked down the hole with the elf and they espied a tunnel running under Birt's Hill! Soon, the group clambered 15' down a 4' diameter vertical shaft. The ranger noticed goblin footprints going to this point, an otherwise dead end in the passageway, and coming from the distance in the tunnel ahead.

The seven set their marching order and began to make their way north in the tunnel. After about 100', there was an intersection where a side passage met this one from the right. 2 dead goblins laid on the floor just inside the side passage, one of them nearly bitten in half! Crunching and scraping sounds emanated from the passageway. In the small dead-end passage stood a Xorn -- a stony-skinned sentient but alien species that feeds on ores of minerals, metals, and precious gems. Its round pod-shaped body featured a mouth at the top of its head pointing upwards, three eyes around the top just below the mouth, and three legs -- each under an eye. The cleric used a spell from a scroll found at the festival to communicate with the Xorn. It said that the ground here was rich in ores and he was feasting when the goblins struck at him in the main passageway. After two of them were slain, they backed off and let him alone. Figuring that the Xorn was no threat to them, the seven heroes also let him be and returned to the main passageway of the tunnels.

Walking north of the Xorn passage, the party saw an area of the walkway that was covered in leaves for about 20' or more. The group used two of their 10' poles to prod at the ground beneath the leaves. After slowly proceeding north for about 10', one of the 10' poles hit the ground and a hollow pop noise was heard. The ground suddenly opened up a 10' by 10' hole that was 10' deep. Glad to have found this pit trap, the group slowly shuffles around either edge of the pit and made their way north once more, prodding the ground with the poles until they were past the leaves.

Farther down the tunnel, they came upon a second side passage, this one to their left. This dead-end passage only went on for about 40' but was littered with bones. At the rear end of this cul-de-sac were a pair of humanoids, in a struggle with one another. One was a human male, dressed in strange garb: black boots, navy blue woolen pants, light blue shirt under a navy blue woolen jacket, and a woolen hat with a rectangular insignia of alternating red and white stripes, but with the top left corner of it marked by a blue field holding thirty-five white stars. His adversary appeared to be a tall, lanky, green, and six-armed humanoid. Just as the fighter, jester, and barbarian made their way towards the grappling pair, they disappeared in a purplish haze that floated in the air around them then diminished until a small remnant of the haze hung in the air. The group investigated but could find no trace of them.

A Detect Magic spell was cast by the magic-user, but no magic was detected in the space in front of them. However, they heard a rattling sound as they stood there and the bones they had traveled over and past began to shake, join together, and form full upright skeletal figures. The group faced ten of these undead foes. The cleric retrieved her holy symbol from within her tunic and held it aloft as she called upon her deity to vanquish the unholy undead. Suddenly, bright light washed the dead end in brilliance and the ten skeletons fled towards the main tunnel and turned south.

The seven heroes quickly headed north up the passageway and after several minutes came to a wooden door at the end of the tunnel. (This was to have been locked for a thief to pick, but I scrapped it when it was apparent no one was playing a thief!) A dim light shone from the other side of it. The group listened at the door, saw it was unlocked, and then opened it since they heard no noise. They found themselves in the larder of the village bakery! A muffled voice was heard. Soon, they had untied and released Ollie Biscuitbarrel, the esteemed village baker.

Ollie described how the dreaded Goblin King himself stormed into the bakery just after the baker's helpers left with the cake, his goblin underlings at his side. He cast some sort of dweomer upon the cake which caused its candles to sparkle, but the helpers could not see it. Ollie dared not call for help lest the Goblin King and his bodyguards slay him. They took his keys, tied him up, and shoved him in the basement while they began to open his wares and stuff their faces. Ollie cried that all of his bakery's stores are either gone or opened and emptied.

The players began to ask questions of the baker, to get as much information as they could before they faced the dreaded Goblin King. They learned he wears a crown. The baker said that he has 4 or more bodyguards in the bakery with him. The witch decided to use her dowsing ability to locate where, in the bakery above, the Goblin King was. After locating his crown via dowsing, the baker exclaimed that the filthy king must be in the back room eating his precious baking supplies. The ranger asked, "How much would it cost, in gold, to rebuild the bakery? ...Y'know. ...if we burned it down?" He felt that might root out the Goblin King and his minions. The baker became quite distraught and nearly bawled at this.

At last, the cleric discovered amongst the acquired magic items from Rustam's birthday gifts a scroll containing the spell, "Hold Person." She said she would try to use that on the formidable Goblin King. The jester said he would take the barbarian with himself and together the pair would take out any goblins in the retail area of the bakery. The rest of the group would attack the rear of the bakery. After telling the baker to stay put, the adventurers headed up the steps which led outside to an alley. The front and back of the bakery were equidistant from this point. The jester said to count to four, then kick in the rear door while he and the dwarf struck from the front.

After their four count, boom! boom! Both the front and back doors opened. There were two goblins in the front of the store and four in the rear plus the Goblin King himself. Winning initiative, the players' side allowed the cleric to work her magic first. In seconds, the Goblin King was held magically! With their leader so incapacitated, the remaining goblins did not put up much of a fight and soon they were slain.

The Goblin King was tied up and handed over to the village authorities. The heroes helped Ollie get some supplies together so he could make a new cake. While they waited for the cake replacement, some of the villagers got together and gave the heroes reward money, as a thank you. Once the money was written on the players' character sheets, I concluded the adventure.

The kids were fantastic, quite cooperative, and wily in their use of their senses and imaginations as they tried to overcome each challenge I sent their way. I find it a bit incredible that they survived the scenario with no casualties at all, but I chalk it up to their ingenuity and cooperation.

I am hopeful this will have the result of making Swords & Wizardry fans of the five kids that do not live here, as well as their parents and families -- just like the three kids and parents that live here. Throughout this article are pictures of the group playing, decorations we set up through the house, and the themed food and drink choices. Enjoy!

Not Rustam Riverhopper

Happy gaming,

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Adventures on the Oerth

A few months ago, I visited the GreyTalk / CanonFire Chat (a World of Greyhawk-themed chat, hosted at, which I regrettably cannot visit as much as I would like). Folks were talking about their current Greyhawk campaigns. That got me to admitting that I have 6 campaigns going at the moment. Their frequency varies and none of them are what I would call regularly scheduled, because married life, homeownership, and three kids (a teenager and two under five years old) means free time is slim. On the other hand, I am quite fortunate to have so many campaigns going (I do wish I could have them happen more frequently, of course).

In order of chronology [via real Earth time, not via the Flanaess calendar], here are the Greyhawk campaigns I currently have:

1) Pomarj/Blacktooth Ridge (Troll Lord Games A Series, using A0 & A1 with A2-A4 possible, depending on players' choice) mashup campaign with 3 players. This one had two others who have not gamed with us for some time now, but I hold out hope they will rejoin eventually. This campaign started with the C&C system but I've slowly steered it towards Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) as reimagined in Joseph Bloch's Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD, for short) from BRW Games. As one player finds the system too rules-heavy, I might work this towards Basic Fantasy RPG or Swords & Wizardry Complete, instead. I regret that I did not find out more about BFRPG and S&W Complete before this campaign began, as changing systems on players is unfair unless all are on-board with the idea. I will likely keep the changes behind the screen but let the players use the "skill" system C&C has.

2) Keep on the Borderlands Campaign: OSRIC campaign with my older son (my oldest overall). This campaign started when we had trouble getting games going after we had first moved in 2010. At that time, I had owned OSRIC for almost a year but had yet to try it. This one may start up again, but my son is happy playing in other campaigns for now.

3) Lendore Campaign: Another C&C campaign which I have also slowly steered towards AD&D, but have stuck to AD&D this time, as the players are mostly new. This one involves a friend, our sons, and my friend's brother. We don't get together as much as we would like, as they live in our former town of residence, but we hope to get session #4 under way soon; schedules willing.

4) Idee Campaign: I never ran a GH campaign here. This solo campaign for my oldest is slow-going and merely to fill in when a pick-up game is wanted by him or me. I started this one last spring, purely to run AD&D again for the first time "as is" since 1990.
[Oddly, talking about classic games during this session inspired him to want to try Gamma World (I own 2e & 4e), so we rolled up a GW character for him around the same time, but have yet to play.]

5) Welkwood/Gnarley Forest Campaign: Begun in July 2016, my wife finally succumbed to the fun and enjoyment that is found in tabletop role-playing games. ๐Ÿ˜ She asked to go shopping for her own set of dice so that she could create a character or two. As my wife daily fights chronic anxiety and depression, I started her off in a solo campaign. There was no pressure for her to play with others, but after just a couple of months, she asked to join the Pomarj Campaign (#1 above). Here, too, I am using the Adventures Dark and Deep rules, but it is so compatible with original AD&D that it feels much the same. I would go so far as to say that it feels like AD&D with both the Unearthed Arcana and Greyhawk Adventures hardbacks involved, with no bloat or sugary-sweet aftertaste.

I gave my wife plenty of leeway. She searched through the Dragon Magazine CD Archive that I own and looked at other issues (old & not-so-old) on my shelves -- searching for classes that fit her ideas for the two PCs she was going to create (I rounded out the party with 2 NPCs to give her PCs a well-rounded group). She chose fighter for one character's class and magic-user for the other. Then, like we kids did in the "olden days," she created a "stable" of other characters so she would have others from which to pick should something untoward happen to her originals. I let her select everything from the archetypical classes to prestige classes from later-era games. I enjoyed breaking down the one prestige class she chose into a class that better fit Original and Advanced D&D.

6) Castle Audubon Campaign: This campaign just might be my proudest. In April of this year [2017, for time-traveling blog readers from the future], my then 3 year-old son (with a whole 2 sessions of Hero Kids RPG under his belt) asked his older brother and I at the dining room table one night if we would play Dungeons & Dragons with him after dinner. My older son was willing, so I quickly ran to the computer and printed out the ruleset for Swords & Wizardry Light. In minutes, the boys rolled up their PCs (3d6, in order). I spontaneously decided to run an old-school dungeon like in the original D&D books where there was an old abandoned castle ruin near a town and the PCs delved the depths of its dungeons. The small village of Audubon and its nearby site, Castle Audubon, were presented to the boys and off they went to plunder its treasures. As I thought about the town/castle relationship inherent in OD&D, I thought of Gary Gygax's article in The Crusader magazine from Troll Lord Games (issue 12, to be exact) and how he recounted his experience exploring the Oak Hill Sanatorium.

My 14 year-old decided on a fighter named Vomport with his ability scores while the 3 year-old chose to be a magic-user named Carvell. They have had several (nine!) short sessions so far, and even recruited their mom to join them at times. Both boys often talk about "playing again soon."

These do not include three possible games I would love to get going with other friends and relatives who have intimated that they would like to play, but schedules have not worked out yet. I have figured out that RPGs are much like their computer MMORPG counterparts: an excuse to get a "chat room" together with the game as the unifying object that brings everyone together. WOW. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Happy gaming,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Light: Session # 6

Two months after our last session (thanks to things like 8th grade finals, a 4 year-old's birthday and party, Father's Day, etc.), we finally had our next SWL session. Session 6 of "The Castle Audubon Campaign" happened tonight, after our Independence Day dinner (I cooked burgers and dogs on the grill). My wife knew I have been wanting to game (especially since our Father's Day's game was postponed by our AC conking out). So, she asked the 4 year-old if he wanted to play Swords & Wizardry with Daddy tonight. It was nice digging out the S&W Legion folder once more and picking up right where we had last left off.

My wife was going to sit this one out as she was wiped out from the heat, but then decided to join in just before our boys returned to their player characters, still adventuring within the dungeons of Castle Audubon...

First, the group found a staircase leading downstairs but opted not to follow it, as they did not want to leave the level they were on -- just like when they had found a trap door leading down in a previous session.

So they took another passage further south from there. The first room the three adventurers entered was occupied by 10 humans, who wore necklaces similar to those worn by the rascals the dwarf and magic-user had turned into the local authorities previously: a runic K. In fact, one of them wore a silver brooch in the shape of a runic K! Vomport the fighter (our 14 year-old) tried to talk to the first brigand, only for the 10 of them to wield their swords. While the fighter and dwarf entered the brigands' chamber, Carvell the Magic-User (our 4 year-old) weaved a spell prepared that morning from the doorway. In moments, all 10 men were asleep upon the ground. Swordwork made corpses of them quickly before they could awaken. The 9 necklaces and silver brooch -- along with a sack of copper coins -- were soon in the party's possession. They figured the runic K's could be used to show the townsfolk in the village of Audubon that there was something bad brewing here under the ruined castle.

The fighter, slightly wounded in an earlier fight with fire beetles, decided to risk a sip from one of the two potions the group had found previously. Sniffing the two of them, he learned the clear one smelled of almonds while the pink hued one smelled of roses. He decided to sip the latter potion. Suddenly, Vomport and all of his possessions grew until he was 3' taller (to 9'7") and weighing about 350 pounds! His head was just 5" below the ceiling of the dungeons. Feeling confident that his growth would mean being harder to kill, Vomport exhorted his mates to press on.

After that, they followed a passage and Stormstone discovered a secret door. The dwarven thief (my wife) listened at the just-discovered portal and heard a shuffling walk from within. The fighter remarked that he thought it must be a zombie. His suspicion was confirmed after he kicked the door in and the party fell on a lone zombie. It was wounded by the dwarf and the fighter, but the wizard brought it low with his dagger expertise. If our 4 year-old was older (and more egotistical), he would have been bragging after tonight's session ended, as he felled all of "the bad guys" this session.

The session was ended just before 8:15 p.m. so that the little ones could enjoy a snack before we braved the drizzle to watch our town's fireworks from our front walk.

Until next time, Happy Gaming and Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Light: Session # 5

I had been posting updates regarding my family's Swords & Wizardry Light (SWL) game and campaign on Google Plus and Facebook, forgetting to blog about them here. Argh.

Here's the origination story of the game, thanks to our 3 year-old. 

I shared our third and fourth sessions to Facebook via Instagram.

We have since played five times to date. The 14 year-old played in the first 3 sessions, then skipped the 4th one due to playing Destiny on the Xbox with his friends (Vomport, his fighter, was resting to heal wounds suffered during his last adventure). My wife joined the campaign in his stead, creating a dwarven thief, Anastasiya Stormstone. During their excursion, Stormstone (don't call her Anastasiya!) and my son's wizard, Carvell, captured a pair of ne'er-do-wells in the dungeons of Castle Audubon (set in The World of Greyhawk; its specific location as yet to be determined) and brought them to town. The fifth session occurred the following Saturday and -- for the first time, all three players danced into the dungeon together....

Swords & Wizardry Light Session # 5: Saturday Night Gaming Fever - Disco Zombies, 5/6/2017

With the two ruffians apprehended and turned over to the Audubon town authorities (to be fleshed out later), Carvell and Stormstone kicked Vomport out of bed and led him back to the dungeons of Castle Audubon. The trio headed straight for the remaining pair of zombies from two sessions ago.

Stormstone investigated the room as Carvell shuttered his lantern. He and Vomport waited in the darkness of the corridor nearby while Stormstone used her darkvision to peek at the zombies. One of them was lying motionless on the ground, two arrows sticking out of its body and a mark of some sort on its torso where the magic missile had hit. The other two zombies were milling about, walking in a circular pattern. One of them still had an arrow sticking from its body. Stormstone stumbled over a spent arrow as she went to leave the area. The zombies widened the perimeter of their walk but did not exit their area in pursuit.

The dwarf relayed her findings to the men and they readied to attack. She crept in the darkness past the patrol circle and readied her dagger for a backstab (not knowing undead are immune to such attacks). She yelled, "Now!" when she delivered her blow so that the men could unshutter the lantern and prepare attacks of their own. Her target soon lie motionless on the floor and the men brought down the last zombie soon after with sword and thrown dagger.

Figuring that the zombies were guarding someone or something, due to their circuit in the room, the trio found a trap door under an inch or so of dirt in a corner. After each tried to open the door, Stormstone and Vomport pulled its handle together and raised it as Carvell shone his lantern on them. He refrained from shining it down the hole, though, at Stormstone's insistence -- and shuttered it when told to do so.

Stormstone looked down the hole which descended some 20' to a smooth stone floor much like the one of the first dungeon level. Hearing no noise -- and seeing no tracks in the dirt near the door on their level, they shut the trap door. The dwarf cut her 50' rope in half and attached one end of it to the handle of the trap door. Carvell drove an iron spike into the wall just south of the trap door. The other end of the rope was tied to that. Then, Stormstone removed some of her dwarven beard hair and made makeshift dangling noisemakers by tying some of her beard jewelry (no real value, as they are colored glass) to the length of rope between the trap door and the spike in the wall. They figure now they will know if someone arises from below.

Spying an unexplored area on the southwestern part of their map, the three adventurers head there. Stormstone uses her darkvision and sneakiness to scout ahead. Carvell and Vomport remain outside the large chamber they find, in darkness as before. Stormstone confirms that the glowing lights they saw from down the corridor was from two fire beetles. The trio moves inside, lights up, and vanquishes the insects quickly. After removing the glands from their prey, they look around the room and find some copper pieces in a deteriorated sack and a pair of phials: one containing clear light blue liquid and the other with clear greenish liquid.

Here, the game is stopped for the night, as our boys were up past their bedtime. We look forward to playing more Swords & Wizardry Light soon!

If you would like to check out Swords & Wizardry Light for yourself, you can follow the very first link of this blog, above. Tenkar's Tavern, the blog of the game's creator (Erik Tenkar), is the destination for the original files. They can also be found at his publisher's site, Frog God Games. Finally, should you so desire, tell people of your experience of SWL and/or join in the discussion of its Facebook page, The Swords & Wizardry Legion, and tell Mike B. that I sent you. SWL is being shipped in packet form to whomever would like one in order to spread its fun to gamers everywhere, thanks to Erik and the fine folks at Frog God Games.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wizarding Schools in Greyhawk

Hello, gamers!

Almost everyone in Western Civilization has heard of Harry Potter -- or at least have heard of the series of books or movies that tell his story. Reading the books so many years ago got me to thinking of how a "Wizarding School" might look in The World of Greyhawk setting. I am one step closer to this now that I have picked up the wonderful (PDF) book, "Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery" by Ray Chapel and his company, Quasar Knight Enterprises. (Check out his blog at the last link.)

I cannot give Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery a full review, only because I have not been able to give it a proper and thorough read. I was able to tell Ray in a chat hosted by Tenkar's Tavern that I had picked up the book and was thrilled by its contents read so far. I have only given it a cursory read, but so far, so good. I hope to tweak it and insert it into my World of Greyhawk campaign after finishing my reading.

What ideas do you have for such a place fitting into The World of Greyhawk campaign setting? I personally keep my Greyhawk material limited to mostly pre-1986 releases, with rare exception (mostly those by James Ward, Rob Kuntz, and Greyhawk's creator, E. Gary Gygax), but there are post-1986 releases I use for anything from insertion as-is to inspiration to something I call "What Not to Do in the Same Way the Dad of the Berenstain Bears Taught Us What Not to Do."

I have thought about an existing college being located in the City of Greyhawk while something like Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery being a rival school in Dyvers. I have previously thought of using the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book, College of Wizardry as the school in Greyhawk City. That's another book on my ever-growing "To-Read List" (it's more of a pile on my bedside table). Perhaps the two books could be used in conjunction to inspire this rivalry.

Maybe they have football games instead of Quidditch? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Happy gaming,

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gaming Simpler Is Gaming Better, a Theory

A recent blog entry over at Tenkar's Tavern regarding the popularity and "less is more" approach of Swords & Wizardry, both as a game and as inspiration for other games, got me to thinking. The game of Dungeons & Dragons expanded from its wargamer beginnings, became more and more detailed, saw its focus change from "players in a Dungeon Master's world" to "players wanting to play heroes in need of a willing referee," became increasingly crunchy and rules-heavy until gamers took the initiative to use its Open Gaming License to create other games (clones that mimic any of its iterations, Advanced or not, in "feel" if not mechanics) to splinter the hobby as much as new edition releases have, and then retreat towards the 2005+ Old School Renaissance or games that are D&D in everything but name like Paizo's Pathfinder RPG (a revised Third Edition D&D game). Erik "Tenkar" writes that many designers are tweaking games. This is once more like what Tabletop Role-Playing Game referees and players did in the 1970's and 1980's. "The rules are the rules" mentality that spawned a new generation of rules lawyers after 2000's release of D&D's Third Edition appears to be receding as players want more time playing in-game and less time fussing over rules, mechanics, and minutiae.

There were similar discussions to this, 10-12 years ago on Troll Lord Games' message boards. In the middle of the transition to 3.5 edition from standard third edition D&D, folks who became overwhelmed by the voluminous rules commented how having less things to manage in TLG's Castles & Crusades game was liberating. This was explained thusly: features that told what a PC could do in fact told what a PC could not do except for the few choices made in feats and skills. In the first seven iterations of D&D (OD&D, Holmes D&D, OAD&D, Moldvay/Cook B/X D&D, Mentzer BECMI D&D, AD&D 2e, & RC D&D) player choice was about making decisions in-game. Post-1999 player choice was a litany of decisions made on the character sheet, limiting what could be done by players once the game play was underway. Post-2005 games have mostly worked their way back to the "OSR style," even if they do not fully explain or realize the reasons for why simpler is better for many.

Of course, OSRIC and Basic Fantasy RPG released not long after C&C. By the end of 2006, there were three games intent on being simpler at the table (S&W would come along in 2008, by which time a few more "Old School" or "Clone Games" had been published, further taking the field to clone earlier D&D games for the sake of gamers who longed to play in a previous manner). By the beginning of this decade (2010-2019), unshackled Game Masters such as myself began to be able to adjudicate at the table once more rather than simply be the "to the letter" judge of the rulebooks-as-law.

I should note that those players who still owned their 1970's & 1980's books and never moved on to the newer editions of D&D that had Open Gaming Licenses never needed to take a circuitous route. They were still playing the games that others have tried to clone so that new material could be written for the older games. At least, that was the proposed reason for the OSRIC game being produced. Its popularity, though, spawned revisions if only to make the game more palatable to those who did not own or have access to the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.

As Erik writes in his blog, what game masters have discovered in their wanting to run their own house-ruled versions of these OSR and Original School games is: It is easier to start with a simple game and add on house rules than it is to take a rules heavy game and subtract them. This is especially true of game systems where they have many interworking parts. Take a cog out of a machine and you get the same result: an unworking system.

Until next time, Happy Gaming!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lendore Isle Series - Session 1

Several Sundays ago (1/15/2017), I was able to run the third session of my Greyhawk 576 CY Lendore campaign. This campaign's group of players features my friend from our last town of residence, my friend's son, my friend's brother, and my son. I had already run the two prior sessions before I decided to take a swing at blogging. So, I shall recap now:

*Obligatory Dramatis Personae*
Friend: Fallon von Schroeder, Human Bard (CG)
Friend's son: Garuk Wornfist, Dwur Barbarian (CN)
Friend's brother: Ulradune, Human Cleric of Norebo (CN) [joins the group in Session Two]
My son: Vithshond, Olven Magic-User/Thief (CG)
NPC: Pseudodragon, Vithshond's familiar

[Note: Being that this is a Greyhawk 576 CY campaign, I enjoy using the Flan language terms of the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio and 1983 The World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting box set for the various non-human races. I will try to remember to denote what they are, as I write. For now, olve is elf, olven is elven or elvish, olves is elves; dwur is dwarf, dwarven, or dwarves; and euroz is orc, orcish, or orcs.]

7 November, 2015

In the first session, the party had infiltrated a Haunted House (courtesy of U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, which in my campaign is being ported from the Keolandish coast to Lendore Island, east of Restenford, as suggested by +Stuart Marshall several times on the forums at They decided to venture there based upon the word of Reginald the Poacher, whose own tales of traveling to the Haunted House perked up the ears of Fallon von Schroeder, a human bard; Garuk Wornfist, a dwur barbarian; and Vithshond, an olven magic-user/thief. Upon hearing of Reginald's visit to the ghostly locale, the trio decided to form an adventuring party to see what they could see -- and gain what treasure the house's former alchemist owner had inside before all went quiet over the last two decades.

As I was saying, the party infiltrated the house in the first session, only to be thwarted by the centipedes in the ground floor kitchen. Garuk makes quick work of several of the vermin. Fallon the bard nearly died, due to a venomous bite, so the party decided to immediately take him back to Restenford. Vithshond casts a spell just outside the Haunted House so the bard could be transported on a Floating Disk of Tenser's make. Since the clerics in Restenford could not neutralize the poison, only slow its progress, the party headed north for the Dweomer Forest, wherein could be found The Church of the Big Gamble. They were told the High Priest or one of his brethren there could probably heal the bard.

Soon after leaving, the trio was beset north of Restenford by a bandit group led by a pair of half-orcs. Vithshond responded with a sleep spell, which knocked out six orcs. The remaining bandits panicked into disarray at this and the three heroes fled north, continuing toward their destination. Upon reaching the Dweomer Forest, they were relieved that no other mishaps occurred on the way. They came to a large clearing inside the forest, where an egg-shaped building sat upon a domed hill. The trio were welcomed, after waiting inside for several minutes, by a cleric of Norebo. Vithshond and Garuk explain what has happened to Fallon. The clerics agree to heal him in return for magic items and/or gold within a year's time. They also state that they have rewards to give to anyone that rids the bridge of the bandits (the very same ones who had just accosted the group) and/or destroys the undead said to be haunting Bone Hill. The priests do not know what sort of undead are there, but they have news of nasty creatures haunting it at night.

At last, the party asks to stay the night and makes an offering. The priests share a small evening meal with the travelers before sending them on their way at first light in the morning. A stag is sent with them as a guide, so that they can avoid the bridge until they have greater numbers or are more capable of taking on the half-orcs' band. They leave the Dweomer Forest and their stag guide behind and make their way back to the coast, to once again enter the Haunted House.

This time, the trio enters the basement through the stairs near the kitchen and scullery -- in spite of the awful sounds emanating from the bottom of the stairs. Fallon and his fellows see a body in the middle of this wine cellar, but nothing else that would have caused such horrendous screams as were previously heard. He investigates the corpse of the armored man, only to have seven rot grubs infest his arm. Thankfully, he knows what they are -- being a well-traveled bard from the Flanaess mainland -- and quickly burns them off with his torch. Better a burnt arm than a dead heart! The bard then follows tracks he had noticed from the stairs as they go past the corpse to the wall of the wine cellar.

Vithshond the olve discerns that there is a secret door and discovers it after searching. On the other side is a large, brightly-lit, and well-furnished hall of sorts. Although there are 10 beds (each merely a thin mattress over a board), a giant table with a dozen or so stools, and plenty of meat, drink, and other foodstuffs; there is just a single occupant at the moment. His back is to the secret door as he whittles away at a model boat he is carving from wood. The bard and olve fell the man with unsuspecting missile fire. The bard checks him and then the footlockers located at the foot of each beds.

The three  examine a connecting room and loot it. They find a map of sorts that appears to contain some sort of code, but are unable to decipher its meaning. Frustrated, they then foolhardily ignore a barred and nailed-shut door that is clearly marked, "DANGER." They remove the wooden beams from across the door and open it to find a room that is cloaked in darkness.  Within moments, they are attacked by six skeletons, spotted by Garuk in the dark. Vithshond brings light to the room via casting a spell. The trio prevail but get scratched up in the process.

Beyond the skeletons' room, the olve finds another secret door. Upon entering this room, the group sees what must be the alchemist's laboratory. The olve fires an arrow at the alchemist, who is seated facing away from the door. He appears to be lost in thought, as he does not move. The arrow takes the head off of body of the deceased alchemist, who must have died years prior, judging by the state of his body. Fallon, the dwarf Garuk, and Vithshond thoroughly search the laboratory and pile their findings into their sacks and pouches. Several books are taken, as they figure they can be sold -- even if they have to find specialists that would buy the tomes. Now they want to further investigate just what is going on here at the Haunted House.

Here ends the first session of The Haunted House near Restenford...

Thanks for reading. Happy gaming!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Greyhawk, Rejoice Over Spouse's Selection

Greetings! Real life became incredibly busy in September, as it does every year due to school starting, hockey season starting, and a number of family birthdays. That led to a busy October (more birthdays, Halloween preparation), an even busier November (more birthdays, Thanksgiving preparation), and we-all-know-how-busy-December-is. Thus, blogging took a back seat to all of that and the busyness of being a parent of a 14 year-old son, a 3 year-old son, and a 1 year-old daughter brings. Now, though, I get to report on an awesome event!

"It" took me awhile to recover from the shock: "It" has finally happened. After six plus years as a married couple, my wife told me before the weekend of July 23-24 that she wanted to roll up a character and try her hand at Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TRPGs). I was so surprised and happy that I froze, in reaction. She made it known by asking if we could travel to a couple of gaming stores so that she could purchase her own dice.

After selecting two sets of dice containing the usual 7 dice needed to play, we rolled up a character later that week. (Did I mention free time is scarce?) It was, indeed, the same week that Gary Gygax Day occurs. My wife had rolled up a PC in Method I fashion (via the Advanced Dungeons & Dragon's Dungeon Master's Guide). She said she wanted to run two PCs, all by herself, so she could get accustomed to the rules and the game before trying to play with anyone else.

We have since played some form of AD&D either by ourselves in my wife's "solo campaign" and in a larger campaign with my son and my brother-in-law (now over two years old) a LOT since August 1st. It may have slowed down because of school, hockey, and the holidays, but I am so thrilled!

It is refreshing playing with someone brand new to Tabletop Role-playing Games (TRPGs). My wife knows of fantasy tropes because of her experience watching many sci-fi and fantasy movies & TV shows (like Legend, The Last Unicorn, Willow), reading MANY books, watching me host and run TRPGs over the last several years, our occasional watching of Critical Role on Geek & Sundry together, and through watching other people's tabletop games online. She is well-read in Mercedes Lackey's works, especially.

***WARNING -- CAMPAIGN LOG TO ENSUE (skip below for TL; DR version)***

Before long, Morna Raenar en Eryn (Olven, translates to "Storm Walker of the Woods"), olven magic-user of the Welkwood was created along with Zharina Tรถrรถk, human fighter of Sterich. My wife had no issue with placing her characters in my World of Greyhawk campaign. It did not take long to start playing. She came up with their meeting somewhere between Sterich and the Kingdom of Celene.

Zharina had previously stumbled upon an owlbear cub and named him Ozbert. Her family was put out by her adopted pet (figuring it would be dangerous), so Zharina took to the road. After meeting Morna, the olvenwoman invites Zharina to return with her to the Welkwood, where her father is Captain of the Guard of the Northern Welkwood, a Celene post, along the border with the Gnarley Forest. Morna suggests someone in Celene might be able to help Zharina with Ozbert's future (because owlbears are believed to become feral by the time they mature to adulthood).

At the start of the campaign, Zharina, Morna, Ozbert, and the pretentious red-tailed hawk, Captain Sable Diamond (Morna's familiar) reach The Gnarly Oak Coaching Inn & Tavern (thanks to +Steve C for sharing this cool locale!). It sits on the road between Verbobonc, an independent town to the west, and Narwell, member city of The Wild Coast to the east. Morna is greeted by Lamurne, the proprietor and family friend, and the traveling pair are seated while their animal companions rest outside. After the wench receives their orders, a group of four (one woman and three men) enters the Inn and sits at a nearby table. Morna and Zharina overhear their talking about missing children. The eldest male, Hagar, father to the other two men, seems to be trying to dismiss the woman's obvious worries while his son, the woman's husband, tries to console her. He scolds his father for taking the matter so lightly. It is revealed four of the missing children are the woman's. Nine kids are missing, 5 boys and 4 girls, in total. They range in age from 8 to 12.

While this conversation is happening, one of the dwurfolk enters the Inn and sits at another nearby table, his own empty mug already in hand. He has an empty scabbard (his sword being checked in upon entering, like everyone else) and a runic tattoo on his right shoulder. The dwur catches some of the conversation at the other table and tells of a band of goblins he had seen earlier this very day west of the Inn -- near the pond where the children were said to be fishing the day before, it turns out. Zharina asks the dwur for more details. She finds out that the kids' fishing equipment was gone when he had passed by, but their towels and blankets were still near the water's edge. Morna takes the woman outside to console her, as she cries at this news.

Zharina offers the dwur to join her in forming a search party with her olvenfolk friend, but he declines, as he is newly-retired from adventuring because he wants to open his own tavern. In fact, the dwur is here to see this very tavern, as its fame is widespread. He is thinking about building one like it, but with dwarven influence in its design, decor, and fare. "How does 'Tenkar's Gnarly Tavern' sound?" he asks out loud. He then introduces himself as Tenkar, one of the dwurfolk of the Lortmil Mountains. (The dwarven NPC is a nod to +Erik Tenkar and his wonderfully informative site and its encouragement of community within the ranks of the Old School Renaissance.) Tenkar suggests his friend, Arkzud, join them instead. Arkzud is Tenkar's contact here and former adventuring associate, he says. He then calls to Lamurne, asking her to fetch Arkzud. He follows Lamurne upstairs to Arkzud's guest room, when she replies that Arkzud is likely still in bed.

Zharina soon asks Hagar for provisions for the search and he dispatches his younger son, Gargan, back to their homestead to get supplies (torches, lanterns, oil, foodstuffs). Gargan gazes longingly at the warrior woman as he leaves, a smitten man.

A dwarf at another nearby table stands and addresses Zharina. A cleric of Fortubo, he holds his hammer aloft and says he will take Tenkar's place as "dwur substitute" in the search party. Zharina agrees to this.

Tenkar soon returns down the stairs, boxing the ears of a halfling, "Ye'd best make some money soon -- my coin was to pay for your travel here and find out if the rumors of the Gnarly Oak's grand design were true. That was weeks ago! ...You!" he says to Zharina, "You and your elven friend. Please take this miserable excuse for a hobbit and make him earn his keep. His sneaky ways may prove useful. Maybe he can help you find the children -- and goblins." At this, Arkzud bows and his feather promptly falls into Zharina's held mug of honey mead. "Charmed," she musters, probably wanting to sock the uncharismatic prat.


Rather than bore with more of what was a typical Tavern party formation, suffice to say my wife enjoyed the role-playing elements of the game and slid into it without thinking about it. Earlier in the week, she balked at talking "in character" but once it happened that a NPC was talking with her, she just used her normal voice to "be" both Zharina and Morna.

Since that first week of August (when we first began actual play), we have played quite a bit -- even if for no more than 30 minutes. My wife has put together ideas of a "stable" of characters like my brother and I used to do in the 1980s. Both PCs were discovered to be the youngest of 5 (per her using the other sourcebooks to help flesh out the characters' family backgrounds) and she later fleshed out all 5 elves and 3 of the 5 humans (deciding 2 of those are merchants in Sterich).

As my TRPG preferences are 1e AD&D (AKA OAD&D, but also includes the very nicely put together +OSRIC game book) and Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert D&D (AKA B/X D&D), I am trying to keep the game more in tune with them than with the games played since 2000. I am trying to come up with more ideas on how to find a middle ground, though. I re-read a Facebook discussion I have had over the years with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) creator, +Jeff Talanian, and he hit on things I want to avoid. Where I prefer AD&D most is in terms of class abilities. Thief skills, for instance, are given a flat percentage chance in AD&D and increase over time, as the thief increases in level. In more modern games (3e D&D, C&C, etc.), the thief's rogue's bonuses to his abilities increase, but so do the "Difficulty" or "Challenge" of the things he is trying to accomplish. As Jeff put it, locks are locks in AD&D but in the newer games the increase is countered by more difficult locks. It is unnecessary sliding of both ability and challenge. In video game terms, the world levels with you -- one of the characteristics of Oblivion (of The Elder Scrolls series from Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks) that I loathed when I first tried playing it. I am keeping an eye on +Chris Gonnerman's +Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game to inform my game. The whole reason for switching to AD&D back in 1982 was because that's what kids in our new town were playing when we moved there. My brother and I liked the idea of separating race and class. BFRPG keeps that separation while still feeling like Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert. Some of the tools in the aforementioned AS&SH and +Joseph Bloch's +Adventures Dark and Deep are getting consideration, too, as I have mentioned before.

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

Happy gaming,

P.S. I'll probably abandon the shtick of naming each blog via the G.R.O.S.S. formula soon. Hopefully, sticking to it this time did not prevent folks from reading.